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FEATURE Jordan Hendrikse: 'There’s a reason I wear the No 10 jersey - so I can express myself. That’s just who I am.'

Jordan Hendrikse: 'There’s a reason I wear the No 10 jersey - so I can express myself. That’s just who I am.'
2 weeks ago

There are Springboks debuts and then there are dream Springboks debuts. The sort of introduction to Test rugby that fills the imaginations of just about every young lad in South African that picks up a rugby ball and projects an idealised image of themselves beamed across millions of TV sets.

Think Siya Kolisi’s player of the match performance against Scotland off the bench in 2013. Or the four tries Stefan Terblanche scored against Ireland in 1998, or the six tries Tonderai Chavhanga dotted down against Uruguay in 2005. File these under F for fantasy.

At the other end of the spectrum we get closer to what might be termed a nightmare debut. And though Jordan Hendrikse’s opening bow in green and gold against Wales on 22 June was hardly awful, there were a few howlers to raise questions over his readiness for the elite level.

An awkward looking off-load, audaciously attempted as he stumbled, found nothing but air. He missed his first shot at goal, a more than gettable attempt for any fly-half with designs on a career in Test rugby. His erratic approach, encouraged by his coaches, was too loose at times, prompting groans from Boks supporters in the stands at Twickenham and eliciting something of a backlash on social media. “Someone needs to remind Jordan Hendrikse that this is international rugby, not loose maverick shit,” was one standout comment.

Jordan Hendrikse
Hendrikse admitted his performance was flawed but is desperate for his next Springbok cap (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

But how does man himself look back on his curtain raiser? Do the memories send a cold shiver down his spine? Will that show haunt him for the rest of his days?

“I think I played really well, I’m happy with how it went,” he says in an assured tone, a day before his 23rd birthday. “There were some things that didn’t go well but those are things I can improve. After I missed a kick at goal I slotted my next one. And with that off-load, if I didn’t trip I’m confident it would have come off, and then everyone is saying something different.

I’ll always try to do things on the field. I’ll always try to express myself. From the first time I’ve played rugby I’ve tried to stand out, to be a bit different. I’ve never been conservative.

“That’s rugby. I’ll always try to do things on the field. I’ll always try to express myself. From the first time I’ve played rugby I’ve tried to stand out, to be a bit different. I’ve never been conservative. If I was conservative then maybe I’d make less mistakes, but who wants to be conservative? There’s a reason I wear the No 10 jersey and that’s so I can express myself. That’s just who I am. I think overall I did a pretty good job on my debut and I loved the whole experience.”

His confidence is infectious. And hearing him say the above words, as opposed to reading them in black and white, better conveys his easy-going attitude. He is not declaring himself the best fly-half of all time. Nor is he saying that he is deserving of a place in Rassie Erasmus’s Springboks squad. If Hendrikse is arrogant, he hides it well. Instead, the most likely explanation is that he is able to view rugby for what it is: something to be enjoyed, an opportunity for experimentation and expression, a blank canvas on which to paint with bold colours and powerful lines. Perhaps most importantly of all, he recognises that rugby is something that means a great deal to him, but is hardly a life and death matter.

This lesson, bitter though it may be, has been underlined by the death of his father. Brian Hendrikse passed away last year after a heart attack the day after Jordan’s 22nd birthday.

“It was his dream to see me become a Springbok,” explains the younger Hendrikse, who proudly displays his father’s image on his WhatsApp picture. “Standing there at Twickenham, wearing the  Springbok on my chest, it was emotional. I thought of him. I thought of all the sacrifices he made, how he’d always encourage me to be myself on the field no matter what.

“It was almost overwhelming but I had a job to do. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I knew that he would want me to play the way I always play. I know he’s looking down on me and my brother and he’s smiling. I know he’s so, so proud of us.”

I can’t wait to join the Sharks, it’s always been a dream for me and my bro to play with each other. We’ve always pushed each other and encouraged each other and shared the values that our father taught us. It’s going to be incredible.

Brian did at least get to see Jordan’s older brother, Jaden, become a Springbok. The 24-year-old scrum-half is out injured and so will not feature in the series against Ireland, but will welcome a new team-mate at the Sharks when he returns to full fitness around August; a team-mate he knows better than most.

“I can’t wait to join the Sharks, it’s always been a dream for me and my bro to play with each other,” Jordan says of his upcoming move from the Lions in Johannesburg to the Sharks in Durban. “We’ve always pushed each other and encouraged each other and shared the values that our father taught us. It’s going to be incredible.

“He used to joke that coming to Jo’burg, or when we went to Durban, that it was an easy five points. But I had the last laugh as we beat them twice last season (20-18 in Durban and 40-10 in Johannesburg with Jordan slotting five conversions).

Jordan Hendrikse
Hendrikse dedicated his debut cap to his father Brian, who passed away a year ago (Photo Gaspafotos/Getty Images)

“But now we’re on the same team, we’re pulling in the same direction. That’s going to be so special. I know our dad will be beaming.”

The brothers’ synergy has already extended beyond the pitch. They’re in the final stages of setting up a foundation in their father’s name with the intention of “giving back to the community” around their home town of Qonce in the Eastern Cape. Jordan is an active ambassador of Rugga School, the youth academy that helps develop hand-eye coordination, skills and confidence of aspiring youngsters around South Africa. It is this community engagement that has seen Jordan join the Roc Nation talent agency alongside other socially conscious South African rugby players such  as Siya Kolisi, Cheslin Kolbe and Tendai Mtawarira.

“I hope I never lose what makes me, me,” Hendrikse adds, before speaking in the third person. “What makes Jordan stand-out? Is it his attacking play? Is it his kicking? Is it his energy? Is it his X factor? What will make him a Springbok?”

He then shifts back to the first person: “I know what it is and I know I can’t lose what it is. It’s all of it. It’s my desire to do something that makes people go, ‘Wow!’ As long as my team-mates trust me, I’m going to try something.”

Being a Springbok was the most incredible thing and I want to feel that again. It was something I can’t describe.

Not that he’s a one-trick pony. Of all the South African fly-halves in the United Rugby Championship, he had the highest tackle success rate with 94%. He is able to carry to the line and can play at 12 if needed.

He has been left out of the Test squad for Ireland with Manie Libbok and Handre Pollard recalled. Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, who did impress on debut as a replacement for Hendrikse, is also in the mix.

“Being a Springbok was the most incredible thing and I want to feel that again,” Hendrikse, who is one of 14 players on ‘stand-by’ for the Springboks, says. “It was something I can’t describe. And it happened because of how I’d played for the Lions. If I’m going to get it again, I know it will be because I backed myself.”

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Comments

1 Comment
S
SRR 20 days ago

Hardly a nightmare debut. I was actually really impressed with his kicking, defence, and confidence. He had one or two mistakes, but that’s because he was trying things. I thought that he was just as calm and assured as Feinberg-Mngomezulu. We have two very talented flyhalves for the Boks for the next 10 years! And don’t forget Masuku is also pushing hard for a cap.

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